How to… set up an employee portal

An intranet or internet-based area that provides staff with access to a
range of services, from do-it-yourself HR functions to chatrooms and user
groups on specific subjects relevant to the company and its workforce. Many
start as simple corporate intranets but as more functionality is added, such as
self-service HR, they become a comprehensive point of information for staff. To
maximise their usefulness, they can be accessed from home as well as the

Why is it important?

They are becoming increasingly important on a number of levels. In practical
terms, the self-service component drastically reduces HR’s administrative
duties and empowers the workforce – for instance, staff can receive online
investment advice or check their personal development programme.

Portals also form a vital hub for organisational communication, being ideal
for disseminating all sorts of information – from the CEO’s message at the end
of the financial year, to the lunchtime menu.

They are powerful tools when used to reinforce the employer brand as they
offer a shop window of all the services offered to staff. There is some debate
about HR’s ownership of the staff portal, and once it is up and running,
responsibility is likely to be shared with other departments – principally IT
and corporate communications. But as its function is to improve staff
productivity and their personal development, HR should initiate such a project
and maintain a controlling stake.

Where do I start?

Chances are you already have some kind of corporate intranet in place, and
larger firms often have multiple intranets. If so, initiating a strategy for a
full-blown employee portal is a good opportunity to rationalise these.

Similarly, your organisation may already have a self-service HR portal as
part of an e-HR system, and you will need to verify with your supplier how you
can expand its functionality or customise it to your needs.

Wherever you currently stand technically, it is crucial to involve IT early
on as future development will depend on instituting the correct infrastructure.
There will also be security issues to solve. Once you have set the parameters
with IT, draw up a shortlist of providers who can deliver what you want.

There are also creative and design considerations. The portal will embody
the employer brand, so the look and feel must reflect its values. It must be
straightforward to use, with clear navigation. If your provider doesn’t offer
this creative input, appoint a separate creative unit to work with it.

Also, start considering names for the portal so that it has its own
identity. Ideally, it should be a snappy name that deploys an active verb. Egg,
for instance, calls its portal Buzz.

What about content?

Don’t try to achieve everything in one go. It is better to start with around
half a dozen simple features and test them thoroughly – a pilot like this will
reveal a great deal about the usability of the site. Invite staff to a user
feedback session after several weeks and quiz them on its functionality and
about what features they would like to see on the portal.

Typically, you can start with a few simple interactive HR self-service
features, such as online holiday booking and the ability to view payslips, and
build from there. Other early content should include a staff handbook, internal
telephone directory, internal vacancies and general corporate information,
including a company ‘who’s who’.

Try to provide external material that will benefit new staff, such as
details on local schools, restaurants, public transport and cinemas. It helps
reinforce the firm as an employer of choice.

Here is one suggestion for a phased approach, but variations of it may work
better for your organisation.

Fundamentals for Phase 1/pilot:

– Staff handbook

– Internal phone directories

– Internal job vacancies

– Company information

– Useful local information

– Basic self-service HR functions – such as holiday booking forms

Phase 2: Remainder of self-service HR functions such as:

– Online flexible benefits

– Customer info area containing profiles and insightful info on the customer
base and business partners

– New employee induction course

– Chatrooms and user groups – these can start simply and build into a
facility for collaborative working and learning

Phase 3/future development:

– Training and development area – a jumping off point to find out about
courses available and a direct link to those available via e-learning

– Integrate or link with knowledge management

– Further development of a networked/collaborative working/learning

– News feeds

Who will run it?

HR should maintain control of its development and content but this should be
achieved in collaboration with other company departments.

The portal will need an editor, so decide whether this is a dedicated person
or maybe someone from corporate communications who has the capacity to take on
extra work.

Do not underestimate the amount of work that will be involved to make the
portal an indispensable part of the company culture. If content isn’t updated
and fresh ideas and features introduced, staff will soon sense a lack of
commitment and give up on it.

Where can I get more info?


– Intranets: a guide to their design, implementation and management, by P
Blackmore, Europa Publications, £37.50, ISBN 0851424414

If you only do five things…

1 Involve IT from the start

2 Make sure the portal reflects the company brand

3 Test the portal with a short pilot test

4 Act on user feedback

5 Work out a realistic budget and take a long-term view of the

Expert’s view: Andrea Crosby on setting up an employee portal

Andrea Crosby is IT projects manager at Powergen, which introduced
business-to-employee portal HR Self Serve last year.

Should setting up an HR self-service portal be wholly the remit of HR, or
should it be shared?

It has to be shared – not only from a technical perspective with IT, but
there has to be business buy-in and involvement. Despite what we’d like to
believe, HR doesn’t always know everything that is going on in the business,
and therefore may not understand how changes to process may have an impact on
practical day-to-day management activities.

What were the main challenges of setting up HR Self Serve at Powergen?

On the technical front, our main challenges were the usual challenges faced
in project management. Making sure we had the right resources, getting
specifications right, and so on.

Culturally, it was to get people to use it. People like to cling to their
old, trusted paper processes.

How much of the system did Powergen specify itself?

We worked together with Rebus to deliver all specifications. We had to be
pragmatic, and worked to minimise customisation of the system.

Which features of HR Self Serve have proven popular?

The most popular applications include ‘Updating Personal Details’, ‘Payslips
on-line’ and ‘Mileage & Expenses’.

These all have a direct impact on the individual and therefore people are
keen to make sure the information is correct.

This year will see us deliver an end-to-end recruitment and selection system
and a performance management system online.

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